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A Timeline Charting the Progressive Nature of Alcoholism

Alcoholism follows a fairly predictable course - it gets worse over time.

Do you have an alcohol addiction? If you do, addiction researchers say that unless you stop drinking, they can predict your future...and they don't need a crystal ball to do it.

So how do they know?

  • After observing enough alcoholics experience the same problems and situations in the same basic order, researchers can now predict with some confidence that alcoholics drinking today will likely also progress through very similar types of experiences in a similar order.

That is unless you quit, then the future's yours for the taking, once again.

As a cautionary guide, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) developed a behaviors of alcoholism progression chart, which lists the types of behaviors and situations a person endures through the early, middle and late stages of this disease.1

This list may help you:

  1. Determine the severity of your disease – by matching your current experiences with those from the list you can see how far down the timeline you’ve traveled.
  2. Get motivated to try for abstinence – if you see that the experiences early on the list match yours up till now, you’ll hopefully get motivated to try for abstinence now, before you progress further down the list, into progressively worsening situations.

So take a minute to read through the list - see where your current behaviors put you on the stages of disease progression…and what the future holds, unless you commit to changing your path.

Behaviors of Alcoholism: a Progressive List

The Early Stages

  • You start sneaking drinks or minimizing how much you actually consume
  • You start to feel preoccupied with drinking
  • You start gulping drinks - especially that first one
  • You stop talking about your drinking with most people (drinking buddies excepted) - you’d just rather not bring it up
  • You start having blackouts
  • Your tolerance goes up
  • You start drinking before and after social drinking occasions
  • You start drinking as a way to relieve uncomfortable emotions/stress, etc.
  • You start feeling uncomfortable in social situations that don’t allow alcohol
  • You start to feel a loss of control over how much you drink (sometimes you stay out way later than you had intended on, for example)
  • You start to lie to others about how much you drink
  • Your habits of drinking as a way to relieve negative emotions get more entrenched

Middle Stages

  • You start hiding your alcohol, or making sure you’ll always have a good supply
  • You start to NEED a first drink of the day
  • You try to force yourself into periods of abstinence (you go on the wagon)
  • Other people start commenting on how much you’re drinking
  • You start becoming occasionally aggressive or grandiose
  • You start to feel real guilt about your drinking
  • Eating becomes less important than drinking
  • Personal relationships become less important than drinking
  • You start to develop unreasonable feelings of resentment
  • You start thinking of getting away temporarily as way to stop drinking
  • Your sex drive diminishes
  • Your drinking leads to your quitting or losing your job
  • You start feeling overly jealous
  • You get into a habit of solo drinking
  • You get morning shakes or tremors
  • You start drinking early in the morning
  • Your guilt has blossomed into constant remorse
  • You have multi-day drinking binges
  • Your thinking becomes scattered and impaired
  • You start drinking with people you wouldn’t have associated with earlier in your life

Late Stages

  • Your alcohol tolerance goes down
  • You start experiencing fear that is not attached to any outside definable threat - just vague fear
  • You are no longer able to work or hold down a job
  • Your physical condition/health deteriorates
  • Your lose your sense of morality - start doing things you wouldn’t have considered previously
  • You are hospitalized for your drinking
  • Your remorse becomes a constant feeling
  • You can no longer count on any family or friends to help you

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